Flight from UAE lands with hill residents

When Air Arabia from Sharjah landed at Bagdogra airport on Friday afternoon with 215 passengers, it was a triumph of community spirit over politicians’ indifference to the plight of expatriates.

A small group of persons managed to network with Darjeeling people facing hardships in UAE, organise their tickets — even paid for nine tickets from their own pockets, liaison with the Indian government and charter a flight to Bagdogra when cries for help to leaders cutting across political lines fell on deaf ears.

The flight landed smoothly near Siliguri at 1.10pm, but the journey till the boarding was full of turbulence.

It all started when Steven Gurung, a resident of Darjeeling, who is currently living in Dubai, came across a Facebook post of Darjeeling people facing difficulties in UAE.

When Gurung started enquiring, the list of distressed people started growing.

“We decided to form a social networking group so that people could contact us. This is because we wanted to have complete data before approaching authorities,” Steven told  over the phone from Dubai.

They decided to approach politicians, who they thought had the reach either in the Centre or state, for help. Some politicians replied half-heartedly through their personal assistants, some only promised to revert while another simply ignored messages.

With no help forthcoming from these politicians, the group contacted Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s foreign secretary, who traces his roots to Darjeeling, through his acquaintances in the hills.

“This was on June 10 an then the dimensions immediately changed,” said Gurung.

The hurdles, however, were still many.

From collecting data of passengers, arranging the chartered flight, seeking permission for the flight to land in Bagdogra, it was the core team of Steven, Sonam Topden, Praveen, Aaron, Satyam, Chogyal Tshering, Alex lama and Bidhya Pradhan slogging it day and night out with the Indian embassy in UAE and central officials.

“Was it not for Dechen Wangdi from Darjeeling, we do not know whether the flight would have been possible,” said Gurung.

When everything was sorted out, nine people could not pay their fares. “Bibek Pradhan, Jatin Ghalay, Alex Lama and others pooled in for their tickets,” said Gurung, who through his contacts also managed to lower the air fares for nine people.

Among the passengers were 16 each from Sikkim and Calcutta. There were passengers from other places in north Bengal, too.